Effects of Social Media on Your Mental Health

Effects of Social Media on Your Mental Health

Are you conscious of the effects of your social media exposure? You are constantly feeding yourself a heavy social media diet, what are you really consuming and what does it generate? Social Media Expert, Bailey Parnell, talks about how social media stresses you out every day in her TEDx Talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Czg_9C7gw0o). On average you spend two hours a day on social media, and as Parnell says, anything that we spend that much time is “worthy of critical observation”. Numerous studies across the country have linked anxiety, depression, and stress with social media use.

Let’s take a look at the top four stressors on social media affecting your mental health. First, the Highlight Reel, constantly comparing your entire life to only the high points of other’s lives. Second, Social Currency, how you begin to attribute your worth and your value to how many likes, comments and how much interaction you receive on social media. Third, FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out, the fear that you are out of the loop or not able to participate in certain experiences. A collection of Canadian universities said that 7/10 students would get rid of their social media accounts were it not for the fear of being out of the loop. Fourth, and certainly, the worst stressor, is Online Harassment. This includes stories of people committing suicide due to massive macro online bullying but also includes micro harassments. Every single “benign” judgment, harsh criticism, a snide remark, or public “prank” eventually adds up to a huge stressor. And thanks to mirror neurons, constantly witnessing online harassment or the continuous negativity reel of judgmental “opinions” creates anxiety and tension in your mind. 

“Mirror neurons are one of the most important discoveries in the last decade of neuroscience. These are a variety of visuospatial neurons which indicate fundamentally about human social interaction. Essentially, mirror neurons respond to actions that we observe in others. The interesting part is that mirror neurons fire in the same way when we actually recreate that action ourselves.” – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3510904/  Mirror neurons show that your brain reacts the same way to watching something as it would if you were experiencing it.

Social media is an addiction, it imitates a chemical response in your brain just like any other addictive substance. This addiction makes you anxious and can consume you. Have you found yourself experiencing phantom phone loss when you leave your phone at home? Can you not go a certain length of time without checking? Do you find yourself mindlessly checking your notifications and scrolling out of addictive habit? Have you tried to tell yourself to “put your phone away and do something else”, only to find you can’t? You are not alone!

So if social media has such a negative effect on your mental health, should you get rid of it for good? Social media does not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon so, as Parnell says, “Abstinence is not an option but you can ‘practice safe social’”. Bring awareness to the four stressors and audit your online experience. While I agree with Parnell that social media seems to be sticking around for the foreseeable future, I also decide that we can choose our reality. It is possible that our society can shift enough to recognize that the negative effects of social media heavily outweigh the positives. I pray, that in the new Golden Age I believe to be coming, social media will disappear, hopefully in time to save my children from growing up with it. You can pray too! However, in the meantime, you do live in a world that fully embraces social media. And it does help in business and sometimes the fear of missing out on what your friends are sharing online is too great, and you want to share too. So instead of complete abstinence, you must practice safe-social.

I recommend unfollowing friends who bring drama, stress and a constant stream of negativity to your timeline. Unfollow celebrities or people whom you find yourself constantly comparing yourself to. Do not participate in drama, gossip, and ignore online bullies, do not feed the fire. Be aware of how much time you are spending on your phone and put a cap on it. Limit the length of time and number of times you check social media so that it does not become a mindless addictive behavior. If you feel you are too far down the rabbit hole, try a social media cleanse. For 30 days deactivate all of your accounts. Let your brain recalibrate and rediscover life offline, break the grip it has on you. Maybe you will enjoy it so much you will extend your 30 days! However, if you want to return (or like me need to return for marketing and business work) make sure to structure your online time safely.

Lastly, I leave you with a thought-provoking video, The Innovation of Loneliness, https://vimeo.com/70534716, showing how, although you may feel social media cultivates togetherness, it is really breeding loneliness. I believe it is a facade that social media creates community and in reality, it is cultivating deeper isolation in the real world.

Madison Rosenberger
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